In light of George Galloway’s appearance in Washington yesterday I thought I’d post up some correspondence I had with them last week on the subject of the MP’s treatment by the media. Medialens recently pointed out that while scorn is heaped on Galloway for allegedly lending his support to Saddam Hussein, mainstream politicians who helped maintain the genocidal sanctions regime that killed a million Iraqis and that helped launch an illegal war which killed over 100,000, far worse crimes than those Galloway is accused of, are treated as august statesmen. Although I agree with the substance of their point I was concerned that the slightest association with Galloway, even in this context, can be poisonous if not handled carefully.
Here’s the correspondence. As you can probably guess, I wasn’t 100% persuaded by their last response, but I didn’t feel that I had much more to add.
""I am on the anti-imperialist left." The Stalinist left? "I wouldn't define it that way because of the pejoratives loaded around it; that would be making a rod for your own back. If you are asking did I support the Soviet Union, yes I did. Yes, I did support the Soviet Union, and I think the disappearance of the Soviet Union is the biggest catastrophe of my life"" - George Galloway, 2002 interview with the Guardian
"If the left is understood to include 'Bolshevism,' then I would flatly dissociate myself from the left. Lenin was one of the greatest enemies of socialism, in my opinion, for reasons I've discussed". - Noam Chomsky
I greatly admire your work, which I view as vital given the role the media play in suffocating democracy in Britain. I particularly support the practical application of the Chomsky/Herman critique to the day to day actions of the media.
I'm writing to express my concerns about the association between George Galloway and yourselves, as well as his association with the left in general. I realise and accept that the various accusations made against Galloway in the mainstream of political debate are distorted, hypocritical, and occasionally outright lies. In the past its been necessary to defend progressive figures such as Ken Livingstone, Noam Chomsky and others when rationally supportable statements they make have fallen foul of the mass media. It was right to defend those people in those cases, no matter the difficulties. However, some of Galloway's controversial statements have been genuinely problematic from a progressive left-libertarian point of view.
For an example, see the quote above. To my mind there is, for progressives, a rather simpler answer to the question "Are you on the Stalinist left?". The answer would be "No, don't be ridiculous. Stalin was a mass murderer" (hence the pejoratives loaded around the term "Stalinist"). Aside from and independently of the elite criticism of Galloway, the anti-war movement needs to satisfy itself that it shares Galloway's moral and political judgement.
I set out a critique of Galloway from an anti-war left perspective here ( http://www.democratsdiary.co.uk/2005/04/gorgeous-george.html ) a few weeks ago. I'd welcome any thoughts you may have.
I am deeply concerned that Galloway will prove to be poison to the anti-war cause during the next parliament. His presence on the platform plays right into the hands of critics who would paint us as apologists for tyranny. Between the left and the right lies an ocean of generally apolitical people. These people saw the moral rightness of our case and swelled our ranks in London in Feb 2003. Galloway will cost us this support. Many people who are repelled by him feel that way for very good reasons (see my article, linked above). The fate of the anti-war movement also has costs abroad so, given events regarding Iran for example, this potential loss of support is serious. To use some rather ugly corporate terminology; Galloway contaminates the brand. The moral case for standing with him should be watertight, as it was with Livingstone and Chomsky in the past.
I realise that your Media Alert was to highlight the double standards that are applied to Galloway as opposed to other public figures - not a simple defence of Galloway himself. But I think that, in order to ensure that your point came across well, you might have pointed out that the man is not unambiguously a hero. This could have been done briefly in parenthesis, but that small statement would have been crucial in defending the moral integrity of your important message. I sense that both myself and Medialens are great admirers of the work of Noam Chomsky. I sincerely doubt that he would have much time for George Galloway. Whilst he might have written something very similar to this media alert, I think Chomsky would have inserted the brief but crucial point that he was arguing a point of principle - not making a partisan defence of Galloway. For example, in respect of the so-called "Faurisson affair", which I'm sure you're aware of, Chomsky did not fail to point out that "My own views in sharp opposition to his [Faurisson's] are clearly on record, as I have said."
Finally, I hope that you accept these remarks in the good faith in which they're intended. I would certainly be very interested in any response from yourselves. Meantime, my very best wishes for all your future work.
I'm sure there are many areas where Media Lens strongly differs from George Galloway. You come close to hitting the nail on the head when you write:"I realise that your Media Alert was to highlight the double standards that are applied to Galloway as opposed to other public figures - not a simple defence of Galloway himself."
It was indeed our intention to highlight the double standards. The point is that no matter what Galloway might have said and done, his sins are trivial to the point of invisibility beside the vast horrors committed by the likes of Blair, Straw, Bush et al. And yet whereas these latter are treated as august statesmen worthy of respect verging on reverence, Galloway is treated as very far beyond the pale. This needs to be pointed out. Because Galloway's (alleged) sins are so obviously outclassed by those of establishment politicians there is no need to attempt a defence of his arguments and actions, nor indeed to indicate any reservations we might have about them, for us to make our point.
We do take your comments in good faith. It's a pleasure to receive sincere and well-intentioned criticism/comments of this kind - much appreciated.
David - thanks very much for getting back to me.
I understand the intention - to highlight the media's hypocrisy in this case - and wholeheartedly agree that Galloway's "sins are trivial to the point of invisibility beside the vast horrors committed by the likes of Blair, Straw, Bush et al". However, I do not agree that "Because Galloway's (alleged) sins are so obviously outclassed by those of establishment politicians there is no need to attempt a defence of his arguments and actions, nor indeed to indicate any reservations we might have about them, for us to make our point". On purely rational terms your argument stands. But after the need to construct this argument rationally comes the need to persuade people of its rightness. My criticism was limited to this second concern alone.
As I said, many people are repelled by Galloway for very good reasons. Furthermore, since most people's perceptions are framed by a diet of pure mainstream media, many will think far worse of Galloway than they will of Blair, Straw etc. They will think it quite right that Galloway is given a hard time by Paxman. He's that idiot who supported Saddam isn't he? Why shouldn't Paxman give him hell? That will be the widespread view and it's people who hold such views who need to be persuaded of the rightness of your argument.
My concern is that people holding this popular view will misread your alert as at least partially a defence of Galloway, and that your point will be undermined or even lost as a result. As I've said, it would have been a simple thing - rhetorical housekeeping if you will - to close off this door and thus keep the reader's mind focused on the point. You might simply have inserted words like "One need not be a supporter of Galloway to recognise that......" and go on to point out the rather obvious differences between some verbal support for tyranny on the one hand, and on the other, launching a war of aggression that costs tens of thousands of lives.
In my view there is a need to do this in order to make your point. Since the media frame and restrict popular understanding of the issues, your work in challenging these restrictions is vital to the progressive movement. My suggestion is simply that to do this effectively its important to recognise that arguments from outside this popular framework sound like they're from Mars unless delivered carefully. I don't suggest that the message is changed; only that details like this are crucial to the argument's effectiveness.
Finally, may I ask if you would object to my posting this correspondence on my website? www.democratsdiary.co.uk
Thanks very much for your time
The campaign against Galloway has been so appalling, so standard for media performance, and so deeply rooted in the propaganda role of the state-corporate media, that we felt disinclined to add something along the lines of "One doesn't need to be a supporter of Galloway's to recognise..." This would have felt like we were offering a respectful nod in the direction of an utterly cynical and mendacious propaganda campaign. The reason Galloway is +so+ reviled (by some) is that he has been targeted for political destruction by an establishment that finds his honesty on Iraq deeply threatening. That's where we were keen to keep our focus.
Yes, please feel free to use the exchange on your website.